He stared at the flag shadowbox. Today was the day. The day his mom would take down the shadowbox and tell him of its importance. It represented freedom. Freedom from oppression. Freedom from dictatorships. Freedom to follow your heart and achieve success.
But more than that, it represented all his father had died for.
He glanced down the hall. It was still dark. His mother was probably still sleeping. Would she get upset if he woke her? Maybe he should watch more tv instead. His foot tapped impatiently. No, he would take his chances. If his mom was upset, he would just have to deal with it. He wanted to hear the stories now. Hear about how brave his dad was.
Carefully, he placed his foot on the ledge of the bottom shelf. If he was careful, he could climb on top of the bookshelf and not fall. From there, he would maintain his balance on his bare feet as he reached for the shadowbox.
After a few tense moments, the bookshelf stopped wobbling and he held the shadowbox safely in his arms. He knew he wasn’t supposed to climb the shelf, but his mother would sleep the day away if he didn’t wake her soon.
Why did girl grownups always take so long to wake up? His Grandpa Jake woke in time to see the sunrise. It was supposed to be quiet time, but he could never maintain silence very long. There was just too much to ask about.
The colors. The noises in the air. Even the smells.
He padded down the hall praying his mom wouldn’t be angry when he woke her. Her job as a nurse was a very important one. It helped put food on the table. He wasn’t sure how since she never bought food from the hospital. All he knew was she said it gave her money to buy food.
He supposed it was a good thing, but he wished he had more time to play with his mom. She was always busy. Thank goodness Gran still played with him. They lived in the old farmhouse with his Gran and Grandpa Jake. His mom said it was because his dad died.
Mom said the military had needed him. Needed him to stand century…no that wasn’t the right word. He shrugged. It didn’t matter what the grownup word was. He’d seen the pictures of his dad in uniform holding a gun with sunglasses shading his face.
He pushed against the door softly, careful not to drop the shadowbox. He stopped on his mom’s side of the bed. He wasn’t sure why she needed such a big bed. Maybe it was for when he was sick. She always left a spot for him. She’d rub his hair and back and let him watch cartoons until he was all better.
It was awful being sick, but it was nice watching cartoons. Before he could wake her up, she opened her eyes, then gasped.
“Jay Three, what are you doing awake already?”
He grinned. She said that every day when he woke her. Jay Three wasn’t his full name but a nickname. He was a third. His mom told him that mean his grandpa, his dad, and him all shared a name. So she called him Jay Three.
He held up the shadowbox.
“Oh, son, did you climb that bookshelf again?”
“Sorry, Ma. I just couldn’t wait any longer.”
She patted the bed and he dove in, hitting her legs.
“Sorry, Ma.” He wiggled under the covers.
His ma ran her hand over the shadowbox. “You know the importance of this box, Jay Three?”
“Yes, ma’am. It means freedom.”
“It sure does, sweet boy. And why do we have one?”
“Cuz Dad died fighting for freedom.”
She ran a hand over his hair and he snuggled deeper. “That’s right. He followed in the footsteps of his dad, his grandpa. As far as the Miller men know, there’s been a Miller man every generation to fight for freedom.”
He wanted to ask her if he could fight too, but last time he asked, she cried. Cried so hard he had to get Gran. It took an awful long time for her to step, but when she did, she gave him a sad smile and the tightest hug ever. He didn’t complain because she gave tight hugs whenever she cried.
“Well your daddy enlisted in the Army to fight for freedom.”
“Where did he go again, Ma?”
He nodded, but he didn’t know where that was. It reminded him of a blanket but his mom said it wasn’t the same thing.
“And he fought the bad guys, right, Ma?”
“That’s right, Jay Three.”
“I wish I could have met him before he died.”
“Oh, baby, so do I. He used to tell me all the time, being a dad was the best thing ever.”
“Better than being a soldier?” He always asked just to hear the answer.
“Better than being a soldier.” She squeezed his arm. “And do you know why today’s special?”
“Yes, ma’am. Cuz we ‘member all the soldiers that died.”
“Not just soldiers, but Airmen, Seamen, and Marines.”
“But soldiers are the best, right Ma?”
“Depends on who you ask.” She laughed.
She told story after story. Then She opened the picture box. It had pictures of his mom and dad at their wedding. There were some of his dad when he was young. But the best one was when his dad kissed his mom’s big belly. His mom said they took the picture the day he left for that blanket place. It was the last time his baby ears heard his dad’s voice.
He liked to imagine he could hear his dad, but instead all he had was the shadowbox and picture box and Memorial Day. Always Memorial Day. To sit and talk about how brave his dad was. It was the best day ever as far as he was concerned.
Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Before pursuing her dream as a writer,
Toni served in the United States Air Force. It was there she met her husband. After countless moves, they ended up in Virginia, where they are raising their two boys.
When she’s not typing in imagination land, Toni enjoys reading, playing video games, making jewelry, and spending time with